entrepreneurship

From the singular twang of a flat-picked guitar to the tight harmonies of a bluegrass band, folk music is more than a sound — it’s an essence. Local labels Mud Stomp Records and Little Class Records work not only to preserve that essence, but to show the rest of the world what Heartland artists have to offer. 

Guests:

Is ‘Kansas City Nice’ Stifling Innovation?

Feb 4, 2016
Startland

This article was originally published on Startland News.

Let me start off by saying, I love Kansas City.

I love the humility. I love the blue-collar work ethic. I love the hospitality. I love the cost of living. In fact, I couldn’t be more proud to be a Kansas Citian. (I haven’t gone a day since the World Series without wearing at least one article of Royals or Kansas City gear.)

Jay Flatland / YouTube

Have you ever just given up on a Rubik’s Cube? That’s what Paul Rose did as a kid. 

“I was around for the original phase in the early ‘80s, and had a puzzle back then, and messed around with it, and put it down,” says Rose.

When his daughter got one, a few years ago though, Rose cracked the code, and he got pretty fast, for a mortal. He can tackle a scrambled Rubik’s Cube in about a minute and a half. 

Now Rose and another enterprising Kansas City programmer have built the world’s fastest Rubik’s Cube-solving robot.

Liliana and Max Younger
Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The basic technology of the crutch, Max and Liliana Younger knew, hadn’t changed since the Civil War.

But when Max’s father became a permanent crutch user after a partial leg amputation in 2008, the married couple — both industrial designers by training — committed themselves to rethinking an age-old technology.

“We knew it was something we needed to change,” Max says.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR

Imagine swapping your cubicle for a beach.

For Kansas City-native Shawn Hansen, that’s not a dream — it’s real life. Sometimes that beach is Rio, sometimes it's Mexico — it doesn’t really matter where, as long as he has his laptop and a decent Wi-Fi signal.

Hansen gave up his permanent residence in Kansas City in January 2014, opting instead to travel the world doing freelance writing, technical consulting and teaching English.

There’s a term for people who leverage technology in order to travel freely around the globe: digital nomads.

How many times have you dreamed that your workplace was anywhere but a cubicle in an office? Perhaps a beach somewhere? On this edition of Up To Date, we speak with people who have given up their permanent residence for a laptop, a passport and a travel guide.

Guests:

Bob Bennett

The job summary is a little daunting: Kansas City seeks a creative thinker to find innovative and smart solutions to the city’s complex problems. No big deal, right?

For Bob Bennett, Kansas City’s new Chief Innovation Officer, it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before. His 24-year tenure in the U.S. Army afforded him plenty of daunting tasks. While he served in Iraq under General  David Petraeus, he developed interagency strategies between the military and aid organizations — something that neither institution is prone to do.

Danny O'Neill
Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Danny O’Neill has come a long way from his basement—where he first began filling orders for freshly roasted coffee in the early 1990s.

“The walls were covered with corrugated tin, because I have this old house—built in 1920 or ’22, limestone foundation—so to pass agricultural regulations, everything had to be cleanable, washable,” O’Neill says.

Facebook - Niall

Running into the same old Kansas City-themed gift ideas?

Barbecue Sauce. Sports memorabilia. Plaza gift cards. Boulevard Beer.

All are great gifts to give and receive, but at this point they're a little ... expected.

Instead, you can innovate your gift giving and stuff those stockings with Kansas City-made gadgets and gizmos, while simultaneously letting loved ones know that Kansas City is the place for entrepreneurs and inventors.

Doug Danforth
Julie Denesha / / KCUR 89.3

Sometimes innovation is best left to the dogs. At least, that was the case for Doug Danforth.

Danforth had been CEO of Midland Loan Services, a subsidiary of PNC Bank in Overland Park. He was running the show. In 2009, the industry had seen better days, and he might have been ready to retire and spend a little more time with the family and with his dogs—Atticus, a yellow lab, and beagles Marley and Molly. Instead, those dogs were Danforth’s inspiration for a new product and company.

Co-working is a new and growing trend nationwide, and Kansas City is home to eleven co-work studios. Does this model reflect the future of work?

Guest:

  • Gerald Smith, founder and CEO, Plexpod
Courtest Photo / Blooom

It’s been a big year for Blooom, the Leawood, Kansas, based finance-tech company.

In addition to taking home a $50,000 grant from LaunchKC during Techweek in September, the company has just been crowned the first-ever winner of the "One in a Million" startup competition, presented by the Kauffman Foundation's 1 Million Cups program.

The grand prize — $10,000.

In a time when the internet and computers have drastically changed the way the world works, many classrooms look just as they did 25 years ago. But that is changing as artificially intelligent software that adapts to a student's learning level begins to appear in schools.

Guests:

Alyson Raletz / KCUR

These days, it’s hard to find someone who has stayed at one job longer than a decade. For many, exciting opportunities draw them to different companies and new careers.

But for Wendy Guillies, the last 15 years with the Kauffman Foundation have been anything but boring.

Kyle Palmer / KCUR

Few will argue against the notion that the Royals' recent run to a World Series title has been a good thing for Kansas City. The New York Times is lauding the metro's "resurgence" and newfound "swagger." Deadspin is fawning over the record-breaking turnout at Tuesday's victory parade. 

Maria Meyers
Julie Denesha / KCUR

Innovation, it is sometimes said, is finding a new way to solve a problem.

In 2003, would-be entrepreneurs in Kansas City had a problem, according to Maria Meyers. There were plenty of resources available to help with starting up a business—but nobody could find them. There was no central hub linking those resources together so that one could find idea incubators, funding sources, lending programs, patent attorneys, small business development centers in any sort of accessible and efficient way.

And so an innovation was born.

bridj.com

Kansas City soon could be home to something called microtransit.

The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority is negotiating with Bridj, which offers a popup bus service.

Bridj is the bus version of Uber or Lyft. Customers sign up and can use an app to book a bus ride and be picked up within a five-minute walk. Unlike Uber or Lyft, you’re riding a small bus with 10 or so other people.

KCATA CEO Joe Reardon says it another way to connect people to jobs.

The word "failure" generally has negative connotations but in the startup world, failure is considered a good thing. We talk about how it got its positive spin and how Kansas City could do a better job embracing it. 

Guests:

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Benny Lee grew up in Taiwan. His first visit to Kansas City was in 1975, one of many business trips he would make here on various ventures — from distributing ginsu knives to developing and selling handheld steamers. Lee eventually moved his family to Kansas City in 1995, when he became an investor in DuraComm, which makes power supply and lighting equipment. By 2008, he was the sole owner. 

Aguilar Hernandez

On a sunny day, two workers had a big job ahead of them — removing the 7-foot bars that for years covered the front windows of El Paso del Norte, a bakery and taqueria on Independence Avenue in northeast Kansas City.

Mike Iniguez and his brothers run the restaurant. He says the neighborhood was “kind of sad” when his father opened the business in 1998.

It was a working class area, and many of the homes and businesses there were rundown. But low home prices drew Latinos and other immigrants to the historic neighborhood.

Frank Morris / KCUR

When Google Inc. selected Kansas City, Kansas, as the first recipient of its ultra-fast Internet network, the news made headlines around the country.

Yet Kansas City wasn't the first to have gigabit service. In fact, we were years behind. Before Google even announced its contest for the first city to get Google Fiber, Chattanooga, Tennessee, already had deployed its own fiber optic network.

We built it ... but will they come?

Natasha Kirsch
Julie Denesha / / KCUR

Natasha Kirsch was volunteering at an alcoholic and addict recovery home when the idea—and a well-timed phone call — came to her.

Sitting in the business office, Kirsch said, it would not be unusual for eight to 10 women to be sitting on the couch outside, asking for help finding and getting a job. They needed the income and the stability — many had several kids and few resources.

But there was a problem: Most were high school dropouts with low reading levels, many had felonies on their records. What job skills could they market? And who would hire them? 

Ged Carroll / Flickr-CC

When it comes to technology, there's something new every week — especially in Kansas City, where gigabit internet has fostered entrepreneurial growth and attracted tech developers from across the country.

Along with new products, businesses and ideas, are new words, phrases and jargon. And a lot of this insider language, which startup savvy people use casually, can be frustrating to someone from the outside. 

Ben Kittrell, who is a Kansas City entrepreneur and consultant, frequently acts as a technical translator for his clients.

Mike Foster
Julie Denesha / / KCUR

Some innovators develop something completely new. Others take something that everyone thought was working fine and make it better.

You've seen it on the field of every football game in the United States — that black-and-orange marker that measures down and distance. It was actually invented in Kansas City. Now, another local guy has created a new version that uses lasers to measure the placement of the ball.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

In 2009, Mary Kay O'Connor was preparing to restart her consulting business. Her specialty was collecting customers' stories to provide meaningful feedback to her clients. The Affordable Care Act was in the news, and she became interested in the data collected by the federal government — data that showed hospitals performing poorly but without much information on how they could improve.

She may not have been the typical startup entrepreneur – but an idea took hold.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

EyeVerify, a Kansas City company building a customer and investor base around the globe, was founded by Toby Rush, its CEO, who went looking for a new place to invest his time and resources in early 2011.

Kansas City, Missouri is in the midst of hiring a new Chief Innovation Officer, but what exactly does that job entail? The position, which is common in tech firms, is a relatively new trend in local governments. 

Guests:

  • Chris Hernandez is the Director of Communications for Kansas City, Missouri.
  • Jeffrey Stinson covers the business of government for Stateline, which reports on trends in state government for the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR

We live in a time where pretty much anything you need can come right to your door, thanks to technology — that is, if you live in a big city like New York or San Francisco.

Whether it’s driving services like Uber, groceries that come right to your door, on-demand laundry, or someone who will come over in a minute to change a light bulb — the proliferation of these services, available through an app, has created what the start-up world calls “The Convenience Economy.”

But a trend that has exploded in big cities has been slower to arrive in the Kansas City metro.

Blake Miller, Partner & Director of the Accelerator at Think Big Partners in Kansas City attributes part of that to the physical layout of the city.

“A lot of it is our sprawl, we’re 319 square miles of a city. For a lot of these companies to become truly successful it’s [about] density and the clusters of people around it,” Miller told Up To Date host Steve Kraske.

That sprawl, Miller says, has led to a driving culture in the metro.

Cody Newill / KCUR

A group of Web developers from across the globe gathered in Lawrence's Liberty Hall over the weekend to celebrate the 10th anniversary of "Django," a Web application framework with Kansas roots.

In 2005, Web developers at the Lawrence Journal World created Django to help journalists put stories on the Web quickly. Now, it's used in a wide variety of websites and apps, such as Instagram, Pinterest and the Washington Times. 

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